Hillary Clinton affirmed “American exceptionalism” in a speech to the American Legion in Cincinnati on August 31.
If there’s one core belief that has guided and inspired me every step of the way, it is this. The United States is an exceptional nation…And part of what makes America an exceptional nation, is that we are also an indispensable nation.
In fact, we are the indispensable nation. People all over the world look to us and follow our lead.
Her speech was another episode in the chronicle of Clintonian triangulation: the continual search for positions that co-opt and neutralize critics of Clinton and Clintonian policies. And by declaring the “indispensable nation” doctrine, Hillary Clinton convincingly shed the pro-peace/anti-military incubus that had bedeviled the Democratic Party and her family over the last three decades and seized the “strength and security” a.k.a. “warmonger” mantle from the GOP.
“Indispensability,” however, is not just a feel-good soundbite; it has the savor of one of those over-ruminated and underdigested think tank efforts that mark the path of the Clinton campaign like so many expensive road apples.
The interesting and rather ignored subtext of the “indispensable” formula is that it is actually a step back from “dominant” or “hegemonic.” Remember “full spectrum dominance”? Maybe not, but that was the Rumsfeld formula declaring the United States military could do it all and we shouldn’t be afraid to wield US power unilaterally. That came a cropper in Iraq, so we don’t do that anymore.
"Indispensable," while projecting a reassuring aura of chesty invincibility to the masses, is supposed to signal to the cognoscenti we are aware of the limits of unilateral power and instead do what we can to structure the battlespace favorably to allocate power between competing and supporting actors so we can inject decisive force when we want to/need to.
The dark side of sustaining "indispensability" is that the United States, as its relative power declines, has to try to reshape and restrain the capabilities and ambitions of its allies, as well as China, in order to preserve the “indispensable” role for American power. That's a losing battle with India and Japan.